One of the wonderful things about full wine service is the ceremony. And there is no part of full wine service as mysterious as decanting. The decanter itself is an object of beauty, but delicately filled with wine and illuminated by a flame, it becomes awe-inspiring. What kind of arcane ceremony is this? What is a wine decanter? And how does it work?
Before we walk you through it, you may find it helpful to understand what are tannins in wine. We’ll explain exactly what a wine decanter is. Then we’ll get into how to decant wine, when you should decant wine, and why you should decant wine. And, finally, how to clean a decanter when all is said and done.
How to Decant Wine
Learning how to decant wine does two primary things (though there are a few other benefits we’ll touch on later). It aerates wine to enhance its bouquet and flavor profile. And removes the sediment from older red wines, if they have any. To decant wine properly one must know how to use the decanter itself, when to decant wine, and how long to decant wine.
How to Use a Wine Decanter
Wine is typically stored on its side. If there’s any chance you're going to open a wine bottle that has sediment in it, let the wine stand upright for 12–16 hours for the sediment to settle.
Now it’s time to get the wine in the decanter. Depending on the type of wine you’re decanting, you have two routes to take when learning how to use a wine decanter.
Also known as quick splash decanting, this is when the bottle of wine is tipped vertical and poured with the force of gravity into a decanter sitting or being held vertically. The wine hits the bottom of the decanter with force, splashes off the bottom, and swirls around. This is best for young tannic red wines that haven’t been aged for long. Typically less than 2 years. Shock decanting is meant to vigorously expose the wine to oxygen and further accelerate aeration. Shock decanting will not help you isolate sediment. Do not use it for mature aged red wine with sediment on the bottom of the bottle. Shock decanting is very similar to aeration, and the best wine aerators out there will do similar stuff. Here's a good resource for anyone interesting in the differences between aeration and decanting.
This is what most picture when they think of decanting. It involves pouring the wine slowly into the decanter. You can either hold the decanter in one hand and pour with the other or keep the decanter on a flat surface and pour the wine in. Either way, pouring slowly and without much splashing helps fragile, older wines maintain their structure, texture, and color.
It also allows the pourer to spot sediment. And the best way to do that is using only one hand to pour the wine into the decanter and applying a light source to the neck of the bottle as you pour. Keep a lit lighter or match beneath the neck of the bottle and start pouring very slowly when the bottle becomes parallel to the ground. Once the wine lighted by the flame appears dusty, cloudy, or you actually see bits of sediment, you’re done. The decanter doesn’t filter the sediment out. But the process of pouring the wine into the decanter allows you to see the sediment and avoid it. You may have seen sommeliers or a wine negociant doing this; it's one of the most noticeable sommelier responsibilities.
How to Decant Wine Without a Decanter
Wine doesn’t necessarily have to be in a decanter to be decanted. It’s the most effective way to decant wines, but there are other methods. Here is how to decant wine without a decanter.
Swish Your Wine Around In the Glass
Because wine glasses are designed to aerate wine, you can usually do a quick-and-dirty decant by pouring a standard wine pour in a glass, swishing it around a few times, and letting it breathe. For how long you let it breathe depends on the type of wine. That’s covered in the next section.
Use an Aerator
What does a wine aerator do? Well, a wine aerator is a wonderful little wine gadget that forces wine to interact with a pressurized stream of oxygen. It immediately aerates wine and, because of the force of the oxygen stream, also approximates a nice swishing. Aerators not only kickstart the oxidation process, but they also boost the evaporation process. They’re like turbo wine decanters.
Use a Blender
Blasphemy! Yes, this may seem insane and you won't see it in any books about wine. But it works well enough for relatively inexpensive bright, young red wines. Pour them in a blender, turn it on for 15–20 seconds, and you’re good to go. This is more similar to using an aerator than it is to using a decanter, because the movement of the blades accelerates evaporation must like an aerator’s pressurized oxygen. But it will still aerate wine like a decanter—in a pinch. It’s probably best to make this your Plan D.
That’s Why We Decant
Very few things in this world are both lovely and useful. Decanting is one of those things. It helps wines become better versions of themselves, and it captures the lore and mystery of wine in just a few quick movements. It's not just more wine tasting terms. Spend some time browsing the best wine decanters online and you’ll probably fall in love with one. Some look like swans or ducks, and others like raindrops or French horns. Pick one up and see for yourself how it elevates every aspect of your wine experience. And even if you don’t use it, it’s a great display piece.